The role of women in Ghana’s colonial struggle
Story by: Ebenezer Martin Owusu-Ansah
LONG before some of us were born to mother Ghana, the struggle for self determination, an arduous and extremely dangerous pursuit, was probably considered the preserve of the male species.
However, Gold Coasters were soon to realize that our female partners were not just passive onlookers but achievers capable of organizing people at the grassroots.
One of such people was Mrs. Mabel Dove Danquah, a journalist, who wrote under several pseudo-names. One of her prime achievements was her contributions to the Daily Times of London, the biggest mass circulating newspaper on the West Coast of Africa at the time under the name “Ebun Akakije,” bashing the colonial administration on their attitudes in bitter words.
Her writing career took a big turn when she found employment with the Evening News, the mouthpiece of the Convention Peoples Party (CPP) which was noted for its influential propaganda that shot the party and its leader, Kwame Nkrumah, into prominence.
Mabel Dove was also actively involved in organizing women at the grassroots exposing her to great danger. Due to her hard work and dedication, to the CPP, she was nominated as the party’s candidate for the Ga Rural District in June 1954.
With the announcement of her candidature at a party meeting, many expressed their reservations about supporting a woman. It is reported that at the meeting, an old man expressing support for her, aid that the gathering should remember that at one time in their lives, each and everyone had depended upon the care of a woman.
The old man’s statement instantly had the magic of influencing the meeting, leading to her acceptance for the position. She won 3,331 votes, defeating Nii Armar Ollennu, Imoru Mobalaji and Peregrino Braimah her competitors. She, thus, became the first woman in the whole of Africa to be so slatted by popular votes to a national legislative body.
As a member of the National Assembly, she was the spokeswoman on women and children’s affairs, as well as issues of independence for the Gold Coast. Her debating skills and intelligent contributions soda-bates concerning bills on the floor of the House, won her the hearts of her male counterparts. They all missed her when she failed to make it to the House again in the 1956 general election.
The story is also told of a woman activist who had adopted the name Ama Nkrumah, who having been impressed by a fiery speech delivered by one of her colleagues at a CPP rally in Kumasi in the Ashanti Region, quickly mounted the rostrum, took hold of a razor and slashed her face.
She then smeared the blood over her body and challenged the men to do likewise, in order to show that no sacrifice was too great in the united struggle for freedom and independence.
Dr. Evelyn Mansa Amarteifio, was also one of the most remarkable organizers ever produced by the cows-try. Even though she never indulged in hardcore politics of the time, she contributed immensely to the emancipation of women in the Gold Coast.
She, together with a handful of prominent women in her youthful days established the first women’s organization on a national scale, the National Federation of Gold Coast Women which later metamorphosed into the Ghana Assembly of Women (GAW).
Initially the federation concerned itself with the socio-political problems of Gold Coast women. To lighten tome of the problems that confronted their colleagues, the Federation established canteens in Accra to provide food for children who could not go home for lunch. The federation also worked hard to tackle tome outmoded customary practices especially on inheritance and widowhood rites.
The greatest of them all was the legendary Yaa Asantewaa who distinguished herself such that even today her name is a household one. She was the Queen of Ejisu in the Ashanti Region who in 1900 led the Ashanti rebellion known as the “War of the Golden Stool” against British colonialism.
The British Governor-General of the Gold Coast,
Frederick Hodgson, demanded the Golden Stool, believed to be the soul of the Asante nation. The men feared to voice their displeasure at the request but the bold Yaa Asantewaa, in defiance of the request, was quoted to have said: “Now I see that some of you fear to go forward to fight for our King. If it was in the brave days of Osei Tutu, Okomfo Anokye, and Opoku Ware, chiefs would not sit down to see their King to be taken away without firing a shot.
“No European could have dared to speak to chiefs in Asante the way the governor spoke to you this morning. Is it true that the bravery of Asante is no more? I cannot believe it. It cannot be! I must say this: if you, the men of Asante, will not go forward, then we will. We, the women, will. I shall call upon my fellow women. We will fight the white men. We will fight till the last of us falls in the battlefields.”
With the aforementioned words, she was said to have taken over the leadership of the Ashanti uprising of 1900, gaining the support of some of the other Asante nobility. On March 28, 1900, Yaa Asantewaa mobilized the Asante troops and for three months laid siege to the British mission at the fort of Kumasi. The British had to bring in several thousand troops and artillery to break the siege.
In retaliation, the British troops plundered the villages, decimated much of the population, confiscated their lands and left the remaining to spawn on the British for survival.
They also captured Yaa Asantewaa whom they exiled along with her close companions to the Seychelles Islands, off Africa’s east coast, while most of the captured chiefs became prisoners-of-war. Yaa Asantewaa remained in exile until her death 20 years later.
Another woman worth mentioning is Akua Asabea, who stood shoulder to shoulder with her male counterparts like Kofi Baako and Sacki Scheck as they toured the Gold Coast addressing large rallies to spread the message of ‘Independence Now’ for Ghana.
Hanna Cudjoe also did not only heroically rally people behind the independent struggle, but also went a step ahead in establishing day care centres and nurseries. Her selfless approach to the struggle took her to northern Ghana where she worked under the direction of Dr. Nkrumah, to convince women in certain parts of northern Ghana to discard some outmoded cultural practices in the area.
Kwame Nkrumah also appointed stalwarts such as Hanna Cudjoe, Ama Nkrumah, Letitia Quaye and Sophia Doku as propaganda secretaries with the responsibility of organizing CPP’s Women’s League.
As we celebrate the 54th anniversary of attainment of independence, let us renew our efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), especially on gender equality, for one of our own famous scholars Dr. Kwegyir Aggrey said “if you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a whole nation.”
The author works with the Information Services Department (ISD).
The Ghanaian Times Page: 9 Friday, February 25, 2011